Henrik Larsson, the player, said an emotional farewell to the Helsingborg fans this week but Larsson the coach won't be returning to Celtic Park anytime soon and he used the Daily Record to pass his apologies on to Tony Mowbray after Swedish journalists used some of his recent interview out of context. Henrik knows just how stressful the manager's job at Celtic is and he's sorry that the recent speculation linking him with a return to Paradise has added to Mowbray's load.
Henrik and Harald Brattbakk
"I was annoyed by the way that story was presented." said the King of Kings. "I felt it was so unfair on Tony and the whole episode reminded me why I've never given many newspaper interviews in my life. I've walked in Tony's shoes during my time at Celtic. I know how he feels every day of the week. I would never discuss Celtic in the papers and I can readily understand why Tony might have been annoyed when he thought that's what I was doing.
"The Swedish journalists asked me where I saw myself in the future and I refused to rule out a return to Scotland." continued the Celtic legend. "I still don't rule it out because I believe you should never say never. But that was misrepresented as me saying I wanted to go back to Scotland to join Celtic's coaching staff and I could understand why Tony might get annoyed by that implication."
Larsson knows that the passion of the Celtic fans is an awesome burden to shoulder and he insists that the pressures of playing for Celtic for seven years were such that he was prepared for anything that was to follow. He wasn't in the least overawed by moving on to two of the biggest clubs in the world in Barcelona and Manchester United. "I remember Celtic going to Dunfermline on the second last day of the season with the chance to win the title and being held to a draw because of a late equaliser at East End Park." he said. "The team bus arrived back at Celtic Park later that evening and an old man was there to meet us. He sobbed on my shoulder and said, 'You have to do it next week. We were playing St Johnstone at home and the title was riding on the result. In the end everything turned out right and Celtic won the championship.
"But I can tell you that being with the club in a city such as Glasgow was every bit as intense as playing for Barcelona and Manchester United." said Henrik. "I couldn't tell lies and say I enjoyed seven years of Old Firm rivalry. I didn't wake up every morning and think, 'This is great'. If you don't win the SPL title it isn't good enough for the Celtic supporters. The pressure can't get any higher than it is in Glasgow.
"Seven years in Scotland taught me to handle everything else that came after in my life, such as winning the Champions League with Barcelona and the Premiership with Manchester United." said Henke. "Ill-informed people say playing in Scottish football must be easy but they don't know what they're talking about. I learned to live with the demands but there were some players around about me at Celtic who couldn't handle it because we're all different temperamentally."
He may have left Celtic but Larsson insists that Celtic will never leave him. "If you ask me am I a Celtic supporter the answer has to be yes." he said. "I look out for their results and I watch them on satellite broadcasts whenever their games are on Swedish television. Celtic is where I made my name and they made me the player I was. I was ready to go back to Helsingborg when the move I made from there to Feyenoord didn't work out. I sat in Amsterdam's Schipol Airport discussing the idea with the Helsingborg people and feeling grateful for their interest in me. But I told them if something else came up that interested me I would take it. The something happened to be Celtic and the transfer changed my life.
"If you play for Celtic you can't just shrug your shoulders and walk away when times are bad." added Henrik. "The club means too much to too many people to have the luxury of doing that. I didn't think the environment in Scotland was mad. It was a passionate place where football was concerned. I didn't know what stopping 10 in a row actually meant when I helped do it with 19 goals in the league. I get shivers down my back now, at 38, when I think of what life might have been like if Celtic hadn't beaten St Johnstone that day."
"It could only have gone one way for me at Celtic after I started my career with two defeats in a row against Hibs and Dunfermline." he continued. "There was also a lot of talk about Wim and what he was trying to do but that went with the territory then and it's the same for Tony in the present day. There wasn't one day in my life in Glasgow when I could walk down the streets and not have to talk about football with someone. That happens when the city lives for the game and it's more a way of life there than any other place I've been. I blocked out the pressure by routine and not going into the city often. The 'other' team sharing the city with you doesn't help lessen the strain."
"That's why you can do without extra hassle." stated the legendary number seven. "And that's why you can tell Tony Mowbray I had nothing to do with talking about becoming Celtic's manager. That was a rumour started by someone who was more interested in making a name for himself than he was about using mine to suit his purposes."